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An Analysis of British Colonialism

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    An Analysis of British Colonialism in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

    This paper will discuss the nature of Africa through the scope of the novel “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. By understanding the ramifications of colonial society and how this affects the people of this continent, we can understand the nature of imperial influence upon the African people of this story. The ideas behind the factors of colonialization will give a better understanding of the situation, as explained by Achebe.

    Unlike some African writers struggling for acceptance among contemporary English-language novelists of the 50’s, Achebe has been able to avoid imitating the trends in English literature. Rejecting the European notion "that art should be accountable to no one, and [needs] to justify itself to nobody,” (King p.167) as he puts it in his book of essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day, Achebe has embraced instead the idea at the heart of the African oral tradition: that "art is, and always was, at the service of man.” These were the motivations in his time and what he sought to do in his academic writing.

    The theme of this story is to reveal the way that the people of Ibo are under the rule of imperialist forces and must survive accordingly to the dictates of a country that serves these terrible ways of governing a people. The theme is basically that these people are dying in the crushing weight of peoples who cannot truly rule themselves because another country has taken over. Achebe sets the tone of the story with the “theme being the struggle for people to live in a society that drives them down as human being everyday” (King p. 56) and brings out the pain of the land that these people must live in order to survive in this country.

    The symbolism used in the book reflects the way that poor people in Africa lived and he uses many symbols of a subservient culture within the tale. The symbolic use of “dead people” within the tale reflects the way that these people felt in a society that virtually enslaved them within their own community. Although the inhabitants of the village were not enslaved literally, Achebe reflects the theme of “the “dead” as a symbolic reoccurrence within the story” (Gates p.67) to reveal the way that these people lived their lives living under European colonialism. The colonialism used in this tale clearly lets us know that the influence of the regimes that they lived under, were most definitely created by the economic structures of this country. A country, such as Nigeria, plainly tells us the nature of how Achebe lived and how he wrote about the ideas of imperialism.

    In the historical background of a country, which Achebe wrote about, we can see the use of British Imperialism that was such a dominant force in the natives, and especially in the sphere of the book that Achebe writes on the subject. Following the Napoleonic wars, the British expanded their trade with the Nigerian interior. In 1885, British “claims to a sphere of influence in that area received international recognition and, in the following year, the Royal Niger Company was chartered.” (Toyin p.34) In 1900, the company's territory came under the control of the British Government, which moved to consolidate its hold over the area of modern Nigeria. In 1914, the area was formally united as the “Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.”

    Administratively, and under the complete control of the British government, Nigeria remained divided into the northern and southern provinces and Lagos colony. Western education and the development of a modern economy proceeded more rapidly in the south than in the north, with consequences felt in Nigeria's political life ever since. Following World War II, in response to the growth of Nigerian nationalism and demands for independence, successive constitutions legislated by the British Government moved Nigeria toward self-government on a representative, increasingly federal, basis, but clearly remained a “large economic power, with many properties and natural resources that were owned by the British government.” (Toyin p.145)

    In Achebe’s book, we can see the connections of economic superiority that exist between the natives and the British. The British, although appearing to be relaxing power, was still fully in charge of suppressing the natives with economic and trade problems that were created after their ‘pull-out’ of the country. Nigeria was granted full independence in October 1960, as a federation of three regions (northern, western and eastern) under a constitution that provided for a parliamentary form of government. Under the constitution, each of the three regions retained a substantial measure of self-government. The federal government was given exclusive powers in defense and security, foreign relations, and commercial and fiscal policies. In October 1963, Nigeria altered its relationship with the United Kingdom by proclaiming itself a federal republic and promulgating a new constitution. A fourth region (the midwest) was established that year. From the outset, Nigeria's ethnic, regional, and “religious tensions were magnified by the significant disparities in economic and educational development between the south and the north,” (Toyin p.67) as shown in Achebe’s book.

    Other historical facts show the constant state of unrest that existed within the country, but was not helped by the British government. In a move that gave greater autonomy to minority ethnic groups, the military replaced the four regions with 12 states. The Igbo rejected attempts at constitutional revisions and insisted on full autonomy for the east. Finally, in May 1967, Lt. Col. Emeka Ojukwu, the military governor of the eastern region, who emerged as the leader of increasing Igbo secessionist sentiment, declared the independence of the eastern region as the "Republic of Biafra." The civil war, which ensued, was bitter and bloody, ending in the defeat of Biafra in 1970. Following the civil war, reconciliation was rapid and effective, and the country turned to the task of economic development. Foreign exchange earnings and “government revenues increased spectacularly with the oil price (owned by British interests) rises of 1973-74.” (Toyin p.88) These were the aftermaths of supposed ‘independence’ that seemed to leave a constant trail of rebellions that were brought on by the British monopoly of power in this region. By understanding the chaos that seems to build around this country, we can see why Achebe’s story reveals a dark under current of racism that seems to hold the country in the palm of the British that rule through trade.

    In the characters of the Achebe story folktales and proverbs are an integral part of the writer's style, and these elements are obvious extensions of the influence in his life of the village of Ogidi, where he grew up. In the relationships, he finds the many facets of how they deal with the hard living that goes on in a third world country such as Nigeria. Achebe believes that the characters must have a direct relationship to the other events in the story and he reflects them in Things Fall Apart discussing the hardships of life in this tribal community. As a child, Achebe was told folktales by his mother and older sister, a custom that is repeated by the characters in Things Fall Apart is revealed.

    The practice is more than simply a means of drawing a picture of village life, however, it is a literary technique that is characteristic of his work and “he uses personal recollection to make his characters come alive”. (Gates p.155) He is concerned primarily with individuals. His narrative method is detached, almost impassive, made of objective formulations through which the human drama is unfolded. Yet it is not impersonal, for instead of flamboyant colors of a heated imagination, we have rather the clear lines that compose a picture by a dispassionate observer of human destiny, who constructs a vision out of his awareness of an inexorable order within the characters and reflects this in the how they react to a culture imprisoned by British Colonialism.

    In the character Okonkwo, we see a suicide that is revealed by the slow climb of power that the British seem to hold over his people and his reaction to the events of this take over. Okonkwo's relationship to the newcomers is exacerbated by the fact that he has a very great deal at stake in maintaining the old ways. All his hopes and dreams are rooted in the continuance of the traditional culture. The fact that he has not been able gradually to accustom himself to the new ways helps to explain his extreme reaction. The missionaries have brought British colonial government with them. Missionaries were often viewed as agents of imperialism. There is a saying common to Native Americans and Africans alike which goes like this: “Before the white man came, we had the land and they had the Bible. Now we have the Bible and they have the land.” (Achebe p.77)

    In conclusion, we can see the economic, political, style of the novel, and the character assassination that occurs within the story by Achebe called Things Fall Apart. By understanding these four main articles of the colonization that the British use to suppress this culture, there can be a better understanding of how they seem to make a cohesive unit in the subordination of this culture by a foreign power. Acbebe clearly relates this in the way that he tells a story, by the main character Okonkwo, and the many facets of the history of British imperialism that dominated the land for so long in Nigeria. This novel tells the tale of how a people lived under this regime, and the effects of this on their way of life. All of this information adds up to the clearly set the ideal that Britain was the main reason for the chaotic society that is Nigeria in the time of Chinua Achebe. All types of writing tasks you can order at


    1. Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart, Doubleday & Company, Incorporated, September 1994.
    2. Falola, Toyin, The History of Nigeria, Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, September 1999.
    3. Gates,Jr., Henry, Kwame Anthony Appiah (Editor), Chinua Achebe: Critical Perspective, HarperTrade, January, 1994.
    4. King, Bruce, Introduction to Nigerian Literature, University of Illinois Press, January 1975.

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